The Christmas season is full of traditions, old and new. Most of us will spend the holidays in the company of family and friends, often sharing old stories and laughs over a meal. There will be gift exchanges, Christmas light shows, church programs, and many other traditions that we hold sacred for this time of the year. And in good southern nature, we don’t like our traditions fooled with. But, what about the traditions that have died? The one’s that bring a smile to your face, or a tear to your eye, when you think of them.
When I was growing up, we had our own Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve was spent in Smith County with my maternal family. Before my sister was born, Christmas morning was spent at our house before making a drive to Alabama to spend the rest of the day with my paternal grandparents. As I got a little older, and my sister was born, we moved the Alabama trip to the weekend before Christmas. Now, in my late thirties, I have new traditions. Most of them evolve around our children and their schedules. Sometimes I catch myself longing for the old traditions of my childhood. I’ve got some very good memories of Christmas, but one stands out more than others.
At the time we moved into Laurel from Florida, I’d done a little hunting, but not a whole lot. I’ve written stories about my uncle and my great uncle taking me as a kid, but I never got big into hunting until after we moved back. I went with them on occasion, and they were both a huge influence in my taking to the sport, but they weren’t the only ones. In all of my stories, I’ve failed to pay homage to one of the biggest influences in my outdoor endeavors. Shamefully, I can only think of one story that I’ve written where this person was even mentioned, and I feel rotten about it.
When you’re growing up, you make all sorts of friends. Usually, your friends share many of the same interests as you. I’m grateful for all of the friends that I made playing baseball, football, and any other organized sport growing up. I was blessed to have so many. But over time, those old friendships fade. Life sort of takes over. You leave and go to college, you get married, you have children, and your time spent with old friends takes a backseat to your new life. In this season of life, many of your friends are experiencing the same things. It takes a truly special friend to remain by your side during those times.
I’ll never forget the first time that I met Weston. He was a short, chubby kid with a crew cut that seemed to wear cowboy boots everywhere he went. When we moved to Florida, I was often the butt of jokes with my deep southern drawl, but after moving back to Mississippi and meeting him, I realized that my accent wasn’t as strong as the kids in Jacksonville thought. Weston was one of the few people I knew that could turn the word “dog” into a three syllable word. He was as country as peas and cornbread…and I loved it.
Weston’s grandparents lived across the street from us, and his aunt and uncle lived next door, so he spent quite a bit of time on our street. We’d toss the football around, climb trees, and shoot birds with a pellet gun (something that got us into trouble more than once). His grandmother, affectionately called “Mimi” by all of the neighborhood kids, made sure there was always plenty of food around for a couple of growing boys’ appetites. With all of the mischief available for a couple of boys to get into, somehow, we both managed to stay out of jail (for the most part). The biggest thing about Weston, that rubbed off on me, was his love of the outdoors.
Weston’s family owned some farmland outside of Laurel, and I would tag along from time to time. After whatever work had to be done for the day, we’d spend the remainder of our time hunting or fishing. I really believe that this is where my love of all things outdoors exploded. As soon as we could drive, we spent a large portion of our free time catching fish and hunting whatever was in season. Weston taught me a ton about the outdoors, Heck, he even taught me how to drive a tractor. I’d be lying if I said I learned more about the outdoors from anyone else other than him.
Soon, a new Christmas Day tradition was born. After spending the morning with our families, our Christmas afternoons were spent hunting together. Now, I enjoyed waking up on Christmas morning and spending it with my family, but I loved the afternoon hunt with Weston. After exchanging gifts and eating breakfast, I would have fast forwarded time to get to that hunt if I could. It was a most special tradition with a most special friend. We continued our tradition throughout high school and college. We didn’t have to plan it; we just knew where and when to show up each year. It didn’t matter if we hadn’t talked much in a while, the tradition just kept going. Later on, I got married and we had our first child. Weston, being the great friend that he is, was at the hospital shortly after she was born. As he stood there holding my daughter, I never realized that our Christmas tradition was now over.
It’s been over eleven years since Weston and I hunted together on Christmas Day. We both have our own families and new traditions that we are responsible for. But every single year on Christmas morning, after the gifts have been unwrapped and the endless sea of paper is picked up, I sit back and think of Weston. I think of years passed and our now dead tradition…and I wonder if he’s hunting that evening.